Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Fishing at the margins of poetry, politics and #phenology

First, I get to share a happy announcement that a flock of goldfinches has returned to the feeders after a prolonged absence. Second, let's take a moment to honor the memory of Aldo Leopold with a Happy Birthday! If you haven't yet read his essays, particularly A Sand County Almanac, this Winter would be a good time to do so. My favorite version includes photographs by Michael Sewell and Essays on Conservation. As I hope you know, the Almanac is organized with essays for each month. January, to my delight, describes a January Thaw. (I'm practically giddy about next week's weather forecast.)

the return of the goldfinch
the return of the goldfinch
Photo by J. Harrington

Third, in the unlikely event I'm ever asked which famous persons, living or dead, I'd like to have dinner with, I've decided that Leopold, Adrienne Rich and Robert Traver / John Voelker are my current choices. Rich recently caught my attention when, in writing about poetry and politics, she noted:
"It's been possible to consider poetry as a marginal activity, of passionate concern to its practitioners perhaps, but as specialized, having as little to do with common emergency, as fly-fishing."
Since I dabble in both fly-fishing and poetry, my instinctive reaction was to take umbrage at what could be perceived as a diminution of the significance of fly-fishing. Then again, read differently, Rich's observation could be seen as not only compatible, but consistent, with this Voelker's Testament of a Fisherman, particularly these phrases:
"Because, in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion;

Because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility and endless patience;"
water is full of delights
water is full of delights
Photo by J. Harrington

Voelker's reasoning seems to me to apply equally well fly-fishing and fly anglers as it does to poetry, poets, and readers of poetry. If, indeed, the best defense is a good offense, might we, and the world we live in, all be better off if more of us spent more time fly-fishing and practicing our poetry rather than constantly becoming perturbed by present-day politics? I wonder of Lao Tzu would agree. Maybe he(?) should be at the table too. Rich concludes her essay recognizing that the issue is the relationship between politics and poetry that is the issue. That can be said about politics and everything else in life, can't it? And phenology itself is about relationships, isn't it?


By Kathryn Starbuck

I do my best
to keep pointlessness
at bay. But here,
wet above my
knees, I let it fly.
Here, hot and cold,
fingers thick with
thinking, I try to
tie the fly and look
for the net, loosening
the philosophical   
knot of why I came
here today, not yet
knowing whether
I’ll free or fry
the rainbows
and browns once
they’re mine.

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